British expats lose bid to vote in EU referendum

LONDON (AA) – Many British citizens living abroad will not be permitted to vote in their home country’s Brexit EU membership referendum after judges rejected a challenge to U.K. electoral law.

The high court Thursday rejected a claim by two expatriate British citizens that they were illegally being denied the right to vote by the government, which allows U.K. residents living in other countries to vote only if they were resident in Britain within the last 15 years.

The rule means any citizen who left the U.K. before June 2001 cannot vote in this summer’s European Union membership referendum.

Harry Shindler, a 94-year-old World War II veteran living in Italy, and Belgian-based lawyer Jacquelyn MacLennan had argued their right to freedom of movement within the EU was being restricted.

Their lawyers told the court a vote for Brexit could mean they lose their right to live, work, own property, and receive health care in their countries of residence.

They also argued the so-called “15-year rule” was an arbitrary figure.

But the judges rejected their arguments, describing the rule as “appropriate”.

Richard Stein, whose law firm Leigh Day represented the two expatriate citizens, said they planned to challenge the ruling.

He said: “We now intend to take the legal battle to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, so that all British citizens living elsewhere in the EU can be part of the democratic process to vote in this referendum which will have a very real impact on their lives.”

“We believe that there is precedent for fast track legislation being put through Parliament in a matter of days in response to court judgment, so there would be no need for the referendum to be delayed if the Supreme Court rules in our favor.”

More than 2 million U.K. citizens live elsewhere in the EU, although it not known how many are affected by the 15-year rule.

Britain’s EU membership referendum will be held on Thursday, June 23.